You knew they were out there. At Freddy’s Bar in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, a group of artisans gather on the first Tuesday evening of every month to construct their own tiny worlds. They’re not miniature enthusiasts; they don’t reenact Civil War battles with little toy soldiers, nor do they pit pewter wizards against hand-painted goblins. No, this is art like you remember it from fifth grade — with shoe boxes and construction paper. Ever wrap a Strawberry Shortcake doll in toilet paper for a diorama about ancient Egyptian mummies? Or maybe eat too much paste and get sick all over your new moon boots? Then you know what it’s all about. Daily Intel went to this month’s meeting to find out more.
“Diorama Lodge” was started in 2006 by Nellie Kurtzman, who decided that there was no reason that twelve should be the cutoff age for diorama-making. Each month the members descend upon Freddy’s, armed with bags full of pom-poms, poster paint, tiny plastic trolls, glitter, dismembered doll parts, and most important, their trusty glue guns. A word is announced and everyone gets busy building dioramas that best represent the word in whatever way they choose to interpret it. On a recent night the word was “liability.” One team, whose apartment super had hosted cockfights in the building’s basement, decided that the best way to portray the word was to re-create the scene. Not having any tiny cocks on hand (of the feathered variety), they instead used plastic dinosaurs as stand-ins. At the end of each evening, presentations are made and then everyone who happens to be in the bar at the time gets to cast their vote for the best diorama. The prizes vary; the winner one night might head home with a bottle of vodka, while another night’s champ could be the lucky recipient of a mechanical fauxfish tank.
With most of the members in their twenties and thirties, the club attracts a wide range of people (lawyers, students, wine clerks), and although some are crafty types, Nellie stresses that making dioramas isn’t just about being artistic. “Sometimes it’s about being clever. Sometimes just about having a different spin on the word.” When asked what appeals to her about diorama-making, member Jesse Levin says that “whereas a more traditional craft is not usually as interpretive in its concept, making a diorama not only lets you be flexible with the concept you’re working with but also the materials.” Emily Helfgot, on the other hand, likes being able to “tell a story with crap found at the bottom of a drawer” and feels that “traditional crafts don’t utilize enough Barbie parts.” There are two things, however, that almost all members mention as being among what they enjoy most about making dioramas: the nostalgia that the process evokes, and getting to use glue guns. They really like using the glue guns. —Anna Dilemna